Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

Greenlees Mountain Bikes

NiteRider2photophotophotophotophoto There is a statistic floating around out there that claims that 90 percent of all mountain bikes sold are never taken off road. Consider what percentage are utilized on rocky, rooty, muddy, eastern trails coupled with doing it at night with lights and you have a small percentage of bicycles and riders. Back in the 90s, I had the good fortune of becoming associated with a group of individuals that took the sport of mountain biking very seriously and became almost legendary in their victories in local mountain bike races in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Their use of these off road machines put the manufacturers to the test every time they had a training ride and some of the best riders and racers at the time belonged to a group started by Chuck Greenlee of Prospect Pa.

Chuck had a small shop and prided himself on carrying the best equipment that could be tested on the rocks of the terminal moraine. The frame to have at the time was either a Merlin titanium or a Yeti and Chuck quickly assembled a group of individuals who supported his shop and ultimately made up his race team. Jonathan Moran, Ricky Haas, Eric Sauereisen, Bob Anderson, E.J Sigety, Steve Wahlenmeyer,Frankie Ross, and Bill Alcorn were all incredibly good riders and the balance of the group were in the older category as veterans which included Chuck, Mike Reidinger, Tim Sweeney and yours truly – truly bringing up the rear. Diane Blackburn was our lone woman rider who could ride most guys into the ground. I first got to respect Diane when she gave me a real ration of grief for getting lost on a Month of Mud course. She was in our group at the time and I ziggged intead of zagged and heard it from Diane for weeks. Jonathan and the boys rode the Pro Expert Division and their rides and routes taught me a lot about riding on the rocks. Of course, I was not able to keep up with this group but they all were kind enough to spend the time to teach me the finer points of riding in this treacherous terrain. Often there were several groups riding at Moraine State Park in those days that were associated with Chuck’s team and the fast guys were able to do their thing with the slower guys bringing up the rear and learning all along the way. I had many over the bars experiences much to the amusement of the “A” team but being part of that team of folks was not only an education, but an immersement into a culture of ride or be left behind. ” What doesn’t kill you makes you strong” was certainly on display on those rides and the fruits of the work displayed itself in the podium finishes for the Expert Group. Our Vet group held our own and oftentimes won our divisions in races like the 24 Hours of Canaan( see May 15th, 2013 post). The NORBA Nationals, 24 Hour races, Hidden Valley Fat Tire Fallouts and Stampedes, Month of Mud races, WVMBA Series races, all had podium representation by the Greenlee crew in all age divisions. Even our older guys like Tim, Chuck and Mike were always competitive overall as well as winning in the Vet and Master division. Like a blind squirrel who finds an acorn once in a while, I even had some good finishes at the time that showed me that with a little hard work and keeping momentum on rocks and roots, even a schlubb like me can be successful. I was happy to be a Greenlee Mountain Bike Team member.

Besides the victories, the better part of being associated with Greenlee’s Mountain Bikes was the culture created by Chuck and also the team itself. E.J and his wife Sharon would always welcome us back to their home for cookouts after rides and races. Steve’s girlfriend Julie ( now his wife) would always get her parent’s motor home to be the base of support at the races and her immediate family was always welcoming with a great place to rest and have something to eat. The mechanics from the local shops would all set up outside the RV and if there were any issues at the races, it was a communal repair pit for anyone who needed it.

I loved traveling to the events in West Virginia with Chuck and perhaps some of the more harrowing rides in the country were with Chuck trying to catch Sam Dyke and the “Parrot Man” with his super suspended van on the back roads of the Monongahela National Forest. We made it to Davis, Slaty Fork and other locations in record time. Chuck was always a pedal to the metal guy not only in his riding but in his driving. But the best part of hanging with Chuck was that if we needed anything by way of equipment, parts, etc, Chuck was always there at all times to provide and would work on broken bikes well into the night. When you are passionate about something, it becomes part of your life. You are not just someone who rides a bicycle, you are a mountain biker. It becomes part of your persona. It seems like a long time ago, but a lot of the skills and more importantly friendships have lasted to this day and my passion for riding a mountain bike was first fueled by a fun loving crew from the wilds of Butler County.

These days, my old Merlin hangs from a hook in my garage. I had it refurbished a little bit to accomodate the chance that maybe my son Jack would ride it. His current interest is not there but maybe someday, he might like to have a start in the sport that has given his dad so much enjoyment. If that bike could talk, it would certainly tell some great stories. There are many groups and teams like the old Greenlee’s Team and they all have several things in common- passion for a sport, comraderie, laughs, accountability, and great memories that last a lifetime. If you are involved in a group like this, consider yourself fortunate. Your life is enriched. If not, try to join one. One great way locally is to get plugged into Jason Miller’s site called ActivePittsburgh. Jason has created a one stop shopping for all clubs, events, teams, organizations, in the local area and his site is an excellent resource for all of us who are active and those who would like to be including anyone who has moved into our area. Check it out and thanks for reading.

The Internal Amplitude Dial

photoCottonwood-20120216-00019IMG00132-20100208-1434 We all have an internal dial or dials which are like radio dials. We have the ability to turn up the dial, turn down the dial, look at a second dial which might indicate how we approach fun, aerobic limit, or competitiveness. Everyone’s dial is different based upon experience, age, physical fitness, and the ability to assess risk. I have written previous blog posts entitled Risk versus Reward and I would encourage you to re-vist them for a perspective on that subject. Outside Magazine’s current issue is dedicated to the topic of risk. But all of us have the ability to adjust those internal dials based upon where we find ourselves at the moment when we are partaking in a physical activity.

If you look at the picture above, this is our skiing group that gets together once a year in Tahoe/Mammoth for a week to 10 days of pretty hard core skiing for a bunch of guys who are pushing 60.( Some of the group are already there). The good thing is that this group is extremely enthusiastic and skiing is very important to all of us. Last year, I turned the group on to the I-Phone App “Alpine Replay.” This is one of many apps that measure vertical feet skied, speed, calories burned, and other measurements. We all got sucked into the technology and spent one day during the week at Northstar at Tahoe skiing perfectly groomed trails with no crowds. We actually had the perfect day to beat the single day record because there are several high speed chairlifts,and we have the equipment that makes it easy to turn and control at speed. The dial was turned up a little that day with our enthusiasm. We ended up skiing 57,833 vertical feet (each of us). The next day, Hutch and I logged 52,000 vertical each. That is a lot of runs in two days but again, we had perfect conditions which allowed us to turn up the dial a bit.

Even guys our age can get caught up with modern technology. I-Phones, Map my Ride, Go-Pro cameras which allow you to video document your own experience as you race to get it on You Tube for the chance to go viral. Equipment advances, high speed chairs, over-sized racquets and clubs, dual suspension all carbon mountain bikes, carbon road bikes, power meters, the list goes on and on which allows mere mortals to venture into the expert zone. We all know our limits and the amplitude dial is relative to each person. But the outside influences on the dials can increase the amplitude sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The secondary dial is more important to me. As the 59 year old kid, I love the challenges on the trails and the slopes. But the competitive mark on the dial is seldom used any more. It is more of an adjustment between fun and aerobic fitness. I love the roller coaster sometimes with friends on the slopes and the trails with all of the modern technology. But sometimes, I like to get off the roller coaster and stand on the platform or have a seat on the bench and dial it back a bit. Take today. I was running trails in the rain and ordinarily I try to push myself to the best of my ability. The amplitude and the secondary dial were not that high but I enjoyed the run and even stopped to see two beautiful bucks. I took the time to count their points. In the old days, I would have just kept running. My wife and I were hiking up at Glendorn a few weeks ago and I stopped to observe a beautiful salamander on the trail. Other days, I would not have even noticed. This week, Mark Sauers and I rode with an old friend who has had some extreme physical problems yet keeps on riding. Bill Belch is a testament to fortitude and continues to ride even at night with some serious vision issues. Mark and I dialed it back a bit and we really enjoyed our ride with our friend as it was great for us to reconnect and great for Bill to be pushed a bit. His dial was turned up pretty far but the outcome was very positive for a very positive guy. John Staab is another friend who rode with us yesterday and wanted to stop for a bit to have an energy bar, sit on a rock and enjoy the scenery for a little bit. You know, he got off the roller coaster and wanted to sit on the platform for a while. Really, nothing wrong with that. John had the longest ride of his season, his dial was up a bit, but he also enjoyed the experience. The secondary dial was turned to …..FUN.

I have been reading some interesting commentary lately about smaller ski areas and how they do not necessarily have high speed chairs. It is part of the experience. They even talked about the single chair at Mad River and mocked it as “stupid.” I tend to disagree and respect the history of the single chair. I remember riding the one at Stowe,Vermont when they would give you a blanket for the ride up. Sometimes, the slower double chairs allow for longer conversations. Skiing is a great sport and a fun activity, but it is as much social for me as it is making turns and runs. Sometimes, I am fine with not constantly taking the high speed chairs and maybe turning the dial down a bit and enjoy the slow ride up the mountain. Kind of like listening to the Frank Sinatra station on Sirrius Radio. As much as I like to stay up with current music, sometimes listening to the Chairman of the Board and even the Spa Channel, relaxes me. Sometimes that dial needs to be turned down a bit. Not all the time. But sometimes when you need it.

My friend Eric drove down to Mammoth this week to catch the first ski runs of the season. Eric has had neck surgery, shoulder surgery, and foot issues which have limited his ski time a bit. But he was enthused when he made his first runs down there and had no pain. The ability to ski like that and to enjoy the sunny weather caused him to turn his dials up. It is funny that his doctor told him he may want to “dial back” a bit but he ended up skiing between 23-30 runs per day and then going for a mountain bike ride. Somehow, I don’t think Eric will be dialing back any time soon. He will be pushing us to break the 60,000 vertical feet in a day record this spring on the Alpine Replay app and that is ok. The dial may be turned up a bit that day, but all within reason for a bunch of older dudes. So pay attention to your inner amplitude dials. They can be adjusted many times during the course of a day or a trip depending on how you feel. Go for the gusto but know that the dials can be adjusted to the fun zone and ……………..that’s ok. Thanks for reading. By the way, that is a Porcupine on my skis. I stopped to look at him too and he liked me. Also- this is my 100th post. Thanks for reading. This has been a lot of fun.

The Moon Cyclists



photophoto Riding my road bike the other day, I was feeling pretty good for the unusually hot temperature. The hills coming up out of Sewickley didn’t feel so bad and it seemed like now at the end of the riding season, I was in fairly good shape for the shape I am in. Until…..a guy who could not have weighed more than 130# soaking wet came flying by me in a rather official looking pro team kit and shaved legs gleaming in the sun. I knew he was serious as he gave me the obligatory wave with the right finger and as I tried to hang on to his wheel, I said,” where did the 30 years go all of a sudden.” My “in-shapeness” was relative now to my age group and certainly not in the age group of the guy who just smoked me on the hill. As I drifted off the back, I kind of went into a daydream mode which you can do on a road bike and just pedaled and thought about the old days. Look above to see the leather hairnet head protection that we wore and the wool jersies. We were official looking as we tried to mimic the Euro Peleton. When I look at that picture today I say to myself,” how would that leather hairnet protect anything?” With age comes wisdom and the need to look cool and official wanes. However, the enthusiasm for the sport was genuine and no group of people embodied it more than a group from Moon Township, Pennsylvania aptly named “The Moon Cyclists”

Our group of North Parkers were quickly adopted into their group after we all met in the ACA Time Trials and Races. Jody and Gary Gillis, Mike and Judy Mihok, Gary Bywaters, all took George and Debbie, Art Bon, the Habays and me into their fold. The unifying thing among us was not just the love of the sport of road racing, but the social aspect of having a beverage or two after a group ride or race was over. In the winter, we used to use the Ambridge Bike Shop facility in Coraopolis,Pa as a roller riding venue a couple of days a week in the winter to keep our cycling spirits alive. Rollers are cylindrical indoor training devices that move under the front and back weel and tend to improve balance and riding in a straight line. Sometimes the staight line was compromised as one’s attention slipped and the hapless rider would crash inside or ride into the wall much to the amusement of the fellow riders. We followed this up with spaghetti and beer at Segneri’s Restaurant as we laughed about how we “schvettted up the floor of the shop and fogged all the windows”, all the time making fun of each other. It became a tight group and we all looked the part of the serious racers thanks to the talents of Kathy Schnaubelt who made high quality cycling clothing at the time and still does today. Gary Gillis used to call her shop the “schvette shop ” with all the old ladies sewing away on the Singer sewing machines in very hot and humid conditions. But they seemed happy and our cycling kits had a big crescent moon on them and we took pride in wearing all of our Moon Cyclists gear. I wish I had some of that stuff left but it was indeed a long time ago and the “schvette” definitely destroyed the fabric over time.

Many rides and post ride parties were enjoyed over the years and it is amazing how good friendships developed. Peer activites and sports can bond relationships that can last a lifetime. Mike Mihok is an ER doc and I credit him with actually saving my life when I ended up in his ER with stabbing pains in my back. Mike instantly knew my previous history of having a DVT in my leg and recognized the signs of a pulmanory embolysim. He immediately admitted me and had a series of tests done to confirm the malady and had it not been for the quick action of Mike and his team, I might not be writing this blog. He was a good friend.

Sad to say, sometimes you don’t keep up with some friendships and they drift away without you really knowing it until the years pass. You have great memories and even though we have the excuse of kids, the job and aging parents and in-laws, the fact remains that to have a friend is to be a friend. I had too many great times with the Moon Cyclists to let that drift away and now I am in the mindset of trying to rekindle the relationships by what else? Putting together a group ride. I am going to do it and we will again tell the stories that we all like to tell like how we took Greg LeMond’s picture at the World Cycling Championships as he exited the port a john. We all were there to ride in Colorado and take in the race at the Air Force Academy. We were such fans then that in true paparazzi fashion, we could not wait to take pictures of the Tour Champion wherever and whenever we could. The poor guy couldn’t even hit the can without the Moon Cyclists all stalking him. Hilarious then and hilarious today. We can talk about how Gary would crave chocolate after a ride, eat it feverishly and then sink into a chocolate coma and become almost incoherent. Gary Bywaters instituted team time trials at the time and we all rode with each other in different combinations a lot of the time and laughed about how we performed or didn’t perform. How Larry Lynch yelled at us after his pull because our miles per hour slowed down after he killed us with each pull. We had several recovery beers after those time trials. Lots of good times -leather hair nets and all!!

As I watched the young guy with the shiny shaved legs drift away from me, I savored those old days in my mind and as we all have entered or will soon be entering the “empty nesters” league, we need to rekindle the fire of those old days. Not as fast, not in races, but definitely in fun and laughter. Make sure you keep in touch with all of your friends if you can. It is so important and it is never, ever too late to rekindle the “schvette together.” Thanks for reading.

WE ARE!!!!!!!

photophotophotoPurple Lizard Mapsphotoband_TIPS Well maybe not me, but this is the cheer of my wife’s alma mater, Penn State University. If you look it up on You Tube under “Origins of We are Penn State Cheer”, you will see a heart warming story. On any home game, you will hear one side of the stadium cheer, “We Are” and the other side cheer ” Penn State.” Now for a guy who went to a small little school up in Northwest Pa, this brings chills to the spine. It is inspiring and is the mantra for all of those like my wife and her wonderful friends who all went to school together at a fabulous university in a fabulous little town -State College,Pa. Happy Valley.

I would like to speak in this post of the idea of friendship which is embodied in the relationship that has developed over 30 years with my wife Janet and her PSU friends. Let’s start with Mark and Kathy Ritchey who so generously open their home to all of us during the annual rite of the fall-Homecoming weekend. We kill their house but the smiles and the hospitality of the Ritcheys is unmatched. They are generous to a fault and their home is our home. Their daughter Megan plays for the Women’s Soccer Team and Kathy and Mark are like second parents to all of those girls and coaches.

A big motor home rolls in for every home game and especially on Homecoming weekend. It is driven by a little spitfire of a gal named Judy Smith who was a cheerleader for the Lions back in the day. She and her husband Mike drive into the Valley and bring the most amazing food for the tailgates. Nothing beats Judy’s Yum Yum bars and her exquisite turkey served with home made cole slaw on fresh challah rolls. Mike Smith is one of three non-PSU persons like myself and fortunatly for me,he is a mountain biker. For the last 25 years, we have ridden together before the game up on the great trails of the Rothrock State Forest. Our route can be found on the Purple Lizard Maps available at all the bike shops in town. We hit the Longberger Path to the John Wert Path( a rocky hell of a trail), up Heckendorn Gap via Treaster Kettle Road, and then rocketing back down the Longberger to the finish. We have ridden a lot of the trails over the last number of years in all kinds of weather. I will never forget Doc Smith sliding on the ice over this wooden bridge right near the start of the ride. A tough start for Michael but he is a tough guy and the rest of the ride was uneventful and enjoyable. Mike is our medical guy. With all the pub crawling and the scavenger hunts designed by the diabolical Kathy Ritchey, we need a medical man on staff.

Valerie and Bob Reading are another wonderful couple and Val was one of the original(roomies). Bob is an amazing athlete. Mike and I took him for one of his first mountain bike rides and his road riding prowess showed up hard in the climb up the Gap on Treaster Kettle. He left the mountain bike guys in the dust on the climb and Mike and I looked at each other in wonder. Bob still looks like he could play college football. Valerie is one of the friendliest persons I have ever met and her culinary skills along with her sister Diane and her husband Billy, make the tailgate the envy of the alumni crowd. These three can cook up a storm along with Judy’s grub and my wife Janet’s “to die for” chile. Beth O’Donnell another roomie from the day, also prepares a feast for the tailgate and her husband Mike, a former PSU player, enjoys the feast with all of us. Mike is a friendly, capable financial guy who is a dedicated volunteer and generous supporter of all that is Penn State.

Then there is the incomparable Mike Procopio. Copes is a labor attorney from the West Coast via Sharpsburg, Pa and PSU. When he applied to Law School, he looked up the next school in the “P” section of the college manual and found Pepperdine. He was accepted and the next thing you know, Mike is looking at the bikini clad co-eds on the beach from the library window. He is a capable guy and the group has no better friend than Copers. He would give you the shirt off his back and then some. Mike Dunlay(aka the Dunz) is the ringleader of this group. A successful restauranteur from Chicago, he is shown above holding Joe Paterno on his shoulders in the famous Sports Illustrtated cover commemorating the teams National Championship. Dunz is also the guy that I refer to in my earlier ski post on “Characters.” Dunz was the guy I took to Killington to ski with my friend Eric and his national class ski racing son, Travis. Dunz shows up in wrap around Clint Eastwood sunglasses and Cincinnati Bengals billowing cotton pants. We all skied fast that day as usual and the Dunz rocketed down the trails of Killington hollering and laughing all the way down much to the amusement of my friend and his son. People kept asking me if he was an NFL player and I said politely “No- that is ……..the Dunz” He is another guy who would take a bullet for the girls. Another generous guy to a fault who would do anything for his Penn State crowd.

Now you might ask yourself, why am I spending such detail on this group? I am trying to portray the archtypal description of friendship embodied here. As an outsider, I have had the opportunity to observe this crowd for a long time and they are truly a tight group. They have been friends for over 30 years and make the effort to see each other not only at Homecoming but at other times of the year, all over the country. They make the time for each other. They call each other. They value their friendships. I am pleased that they consider me a friend as well and they have always welcomed me into the their midst as an honorary Lion. Pretty nice for a guy who didn’t really make the most of his college experience. Janet is a good friend to all of them. My mother used to say that to have a friend is to be a friend. I see Jan calling her friends from PSU, getting together with them, laughing with them, crying with them, and it is really heartwarming to see how much she enjoys her friends for all these many years. So as inspiring as this is to me, it should be to you as well. Cherish your friends. Make plans and take the time to get together with them. We are getting older. Our kids are growing and will soon have their own path and friends in life. But I expect this group to be rock solid for many years to come. I want to tag along and when the crowd screams,” WE ARE” I will shout back ……”Penn State.” Thanks for reading.

The Saturday Morning Group

photophotophoto One of the more interesting habits of active people is the yearning to get together on a weekly basis to do something that we all are passionate about. Whether you have your regularly scheduled foursome on the golf course, your doubles outings in tennis, or your fishing or shooting events, there is a need to have comraderie with your friends on a weekly basis. It takes a lot of work to schedule these outings with games, practices, family or work issues, but if you have the will to do it, you can find a way to schedule your fun with your friends. Take my groups above. My Saturday morning ski group is a prime example of guys who love to ski and get together. Some of these guys I have skied with for over 40 years and others come and go. But the core group can’t wait to get together and the E-Mails start flying around Wednesdays to make sure everyone is coming and to see who is out of town on a great ski trip. The other group above is my Saturday morning Mountain Bike group which also varies in participants but JR Ellis, Pete Hilton, Don Cunningham, and me are the core members who welcome everyone to join us. We lost Ralph Phillips to a move to North Carolina, but he is with us in spirit and we will ride with him in the near future. We get visitors from out of town, guys that come on occasion, and guys whom we meet on the trails who want to join a group of jokers who have fun and tell each other how good we were. Great times on Saturday mornings.

One good thing about scheduling the weekly Saturday outings is the accountability factor. Now each of these groups have participants who are real enthusiasts and can easily ski or ride by themselves. I, for one, like to ski by myself and ride by myself. But I know the value of participating with a group for more than just the comraderie while partipating in a mutually loved activity. You can learn a lot about your friends by spending time with them and make new friends in the same fashion. The participants in my groups need no motivation to get up and run, ride, or ski. It is part of their fabric and they have participated in these activities for so long that they really don’t need the accountability to make them show up. However, if you are a new person to a sport or you have been out of the sport for a while, you might benefit from joining a group that enjoys what you do or are interested in doing, and will hold you accountable if you don’t show. The group will bust you if you fail to make the outing and sometimes this is what a person needs to jump start their activity. Running groups are great for this and cycling groups promote this type of acountability as well. As Jack McArdle has said before, our North Park is the only place you have to apologize for running 5 miles. But if you are willing to schedule yourself and be accountable to a group, you will become better at the sport because you will benefit from the experience of some of those who are in that particular group. I have skied for over 50 years and I still learn something every year and a lot of it comes from skiing with my Saturday morning guys. We talk skiing, eat skiing, breathe, skiing and you can learn a lot just by listening and participating. Same thing with my riding group. We talk equipment, what works, what does not work, fitness, diet, new trails, and everything associated with the great activity of mountain biking. Young guys like to join us mostly because they like to hear the stories about the old days and in some instances, some of us old warhorses can still hang with the younger set which they find appealing. I believe it gives them some motivtion in that a lot of us are as old or older than their dads and are out skiing at warp speed, or riding with a high level of fitness over some demanding trails.

Whether you want to take up golf, tennis, skiing, cycling or running,or whatever, there are clubs and groups of individuals who participate on a regular basis that would be happy to take you under their wing and show you the ropes just like someone did for them. We do it all the time with our ski group and also with our mountain bike group. You can develop some amazing friends over the years if you choose to have a Saturday morning group. Our friend Craig Morris from the ski group could not be more of a loyal friend. My mother always said that to have a friend is to be a friend. You have to make an effort and Craig has done that for our group for a long, long time. We have been friends for over 40 years. Craig makes the effort and is one of the core guys in the ski group. He makes an effort to travel and ski with the guys and values his friendships. He would be an example of my mother’s axiom. The same can be said for my riding group. So………..lesson here is to take up an activity or join others who participate in an activity and try to have a Saturday morning group. They will make you laugh, hold you accountable on many fronts, and be there for you when you need them the most. They get to know you and the activity only solidifies what is important……friendship, and comraderie. Thanks for reading.

Friends Can Help Weather the Storm

IMG00060-20091104-1655photo The picture you see above is of me on the right and my friend Richard Nicolette on the left at Mt. Evans just outside of Denver on the Front Range. Richard is my oldest friend. In fact, he was the first human being that I knew outside my mother and dad when I was a kid. We grew up in the neighborhood together and now he lives in Arvada, Colorado. Richard and I skied together as kids and he has been living back and forth in Colorado/Pittsburgh three separate times and now lives in Colorado permanently. He was the first guy I ever saw do a back flip on skis. In those days, these were done on 210 cm skis. A pretty impressive feat. One day Richard called me from Aspen where he was working at the Mesa Store Bakery and told me that he laid out a back gainer for Boz Skaags. I thought that was pretty cool and we had many ski adventures in the last 50 years together.

Recently in the last several years, my travels have taken me to Denver for various reasons and Richard and I always get together. In these recent times, we have hiked together because I found myself in Denver during non-ski seasons of the year. But that is ok because we have been able to catch up while hiking and while we have had fun, we have endured some amazing weather. For instance, several years ago we were hiking up the James Peak Lake Trail in the Roosevelt National Forest not far from Boulder. In Colorado, you need to make sure that you get your hike started before noon and make your way back as soon as you can because there are always wicked thunder storms in the afternoons in the mountains. We made the mistake of staying too long at Chipotle in Arvada, our favorite haunt( how about that Chris, Adam and Loraine). We started the hike in the early afternoon and by late afternoon we were still up high at the lake when a really big thunderstorm was brewing. The clouds were black and the lightning was right on us. When you are high in the mountains, the lightning is all around you and it can be pretty un-nerving. We had our rain gear with us and quickly donned it before the biblical rains began. We nervously laughed at each crack of thunder and lightning until we started to run towards the parking area. Not a good time when the storms begin. At the end of that hike, we went immediately to the Sundance Cafe on Highway 119 near Nederland. After the storm, we sat on the deck and had an amazing view of the Front Range and talked incessantly about the harrowing experience on the mountain that day.

We went another day to the trail systems in Golden, Colorado where the weather was so hot, we were glad that our hydration packs were full of ice water and we had a spare bottle between us. Those trails are really well laid out and the city of Golden should be proud of their system which is within easy reach of the town. The trip to Mt. Evans on another hike in another year was momentous in that it suddenly turned very cold and the rain was intense and freezing. Richard and I never let the weather spoil our fun and fortunately we have the packs and the rain gear to protect us. You have to have the gear if you want to venture into the outdoors especially in the unpredictable Front Range of Colorado. Mt. Evans is 14,264 feet high and is one of the famous fourteeners in Colorado which locals like to summit during the summer months. However at that altitude, curiously not far from Denver, you have to be prepared. It can snow in mid summer and this particular picture was taken in August. You will notice I am wearing a wool hat. Many people have died from exposure because they go to this altitude without backup clothing and hypothermia is a real threat especially when you are stuck in a cold rain storm.

Richard and I always like to do adventurous things together. We have weathered many storms together hiking, skiing and riding road bikes. But we have also weathered some life storms as well. Richard was one of the first people to call me when my father suddenly passed away in his sleep 12 years ago. He was on the phone when my mother passed 4 years later. We talked for hours about the old neighorhood and stories about our parents and how they raised us back then. To this day, when we see each other, it is as if I just saw him yesterday and we pick up talking about the old days and current situations in each other’s lives. Richard likes to hear about my son Jack and my wife Janet. He doesn’t have any children but is engaged to a really cool lady named Linda who is truly his soulmate and I am happy for him. We E-Mail each other frequently and they tend to be contemplative about life in general. Richard has had to weather some storms. He has a degree from Rochester Institute of Technology and has been in the graphic arts business all of his life. Unfortunately, that industry has fallen on hard times because of the new technology of self publishing and the Internet. However, Richard has re-invented himself as a substitute teacher in the Denver and Boulder area and couldn’t be happier. He has a real passion for kids and his gentle spirit is welcome in all of those classrooms. I like to think that I have weathered some of his life storms with him that are just as hairy as that day on the James Peak Trail.

So, if you have a lifelong friend in the world, cultivate that relationhship. They say if you die with 5 real friends, you are truly a blessed person. Richard is one of those people in my life. We like our gear, we weather the storms on the mountain and in life together. If you have a friend like that, make an effort to see them at all costs. Life is short and friends are true treasures in life. Go hike and catch up with a friend. Thanks for reading.